Pinellas County declares state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Dorian

As of 11 a.m. Aug. 31, Dorian was located about 415 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida and 260 miles east northeast of the northwestern Bahamas.

Pinellas County declared a state of emergency about 9:15 a.m. Saturday, which gives the county administrator the authority to waive purchasing requirements and order evacuations if necessary in advance of Hurricane Dorian.

That was before National Hurricane Center's 11 a.m. advisory came out.

Dorian was still a powerful storm Saturday morning, but one big change was evident. National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast track does not show the Category 4 hurricane coming ashore anywhere in Florida.

Parts of the state remain in the forecast cone. However, Pinellas County is no longer included as of 11 a.m. But, NHC meteorologists pointed out in the discussion that computer models still do not agree. Still, chances are greater that Dorian will turn northward and not make landfall. All this is good news for residents on the west coast.

County Administrator Barry Burton pointed out that Dorian was still a “very dangerous hurricane.”

“We don’t know the effect it will have on Pinellas County,” he said. “It could be anything from tropical-storm-force winds and long periods of heavy rains to something even more severe depending on the path of the hurricane.”

Burton was speaking during a 9 a.m. meeting before the latest forecast was released from NHC.

The east coast is more likely to experience hurricane-conditions, including storm surge and winds, but NHC cannot yet pinpoint where that would occur. Forecasters also were advising residents of Georgia and South Carolina of a risk of strong winds and life-threatening storm surge becoming possible early next week.

Commissioner Dave Eggers asked if anything was occurring to assist people on the east coast that might come to Pinellas seeking shelter. Perkins said she was working closely with the state and the school board and would make as many as 3,900 shelter spots available if needed.

Pinellas County effects

The National Weather Service latest forecast says tropical storm conditions are possible in the local area on Tuesday and Tuesday night. NHC says the area has a 30% chance of experiencing tropical-storm-force winds beginning sometime late Sunday or early Monday morning. Rainfall totals of about 2 inches are expected. On Friday, the local area had a 70% chance of wind impacts and 6-inches of rain was expected.

“The only thing certain about this storm is the uncertainty,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at the Saturday morning special meeting of the County Commission.

Gualtieri and Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins supported the decision to declare an emergency in advance of the storm. Pinellas could begin to feel effects of the hurricane late Monday night or Tuesday.

Pinellas County officials advise residents to be prepared for tropical-storm-force winds, flooding and loss of power. Residents are advised to plan accordingly.

Perkins asked residents to keep a close eye on the weather, pointing out that the current forecast, which keeps the hurricane off the east coast, was dependent on Dorian making a sharp turn to the north on Tuesday morning. However, that forecast is not a certainty. By that time, Dorian will have slowed down to 3 mph, she said.

She also pointed out that Pinellas had been in the five-day forecast cone for six days and would continue to stay in the forecast cone for at least two more days.

However, NHC’s 11 a.m. advisory shows Pinellas outside the forecast cone.

“It’s really important that people stay vigilant,” she said.

No evacuations have been ordered at this point; however, Perkins outlined two possible scenarios as Dorian continued its westward movement toward Florida.

The best-case scenario is ordering of voluntary evacuations for mobile home residents, those who are electricity dependent and people who live in low-lying areas and coastal areas.

The worst-case scenario would be ordering of mandatory evacuations for some residents.

“Regardless of which scenario, I want to make it clear to the community, please prepare,” she said.

Residents should visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm to look up their evacuation zones and for more preparedness information.

Perkins also asks that everyone be “good neighbors.” She said while it is good to be prepared, people should not buy more than they need, especially when it comes to water, gas and nonperishable food.

Reports started coming in Thursday afternoon of bare shelves at local grocery stores and water shortages. Many gas stations had lines as people filled up ahead of the possible tropical weather. AAA was reporting gas shortages occurring throughout the state.

Gualtieri said while evacuations are not likely at this time, people still need to listen to officials and do what they say. He said a lot of people were in the county right now, which leads to additional challenges with traffic, especially in the case of power outages and flooding.

“Hopefully on Tuesday morning it (Dorian) will go further east and avoid us and we can all get back to business at hand,” Gualtieri said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an emergency declaration for the entire state.

“Due to Hurricane Dorian’s uncertain projected path, I am expanding the state of emergency to include all 67 counties throughout Florida,” the governor said in a press release. “All residents, especially those along the east coast, need to be prepared for possible impacts. As it increases strength, this storm has the potential to severely damage homes, businesses and buildings, which is why all Floridians should remain vigilant. Do not wait until it is too late to make a plan.”

Information center is open

The county’s Citizen Information Center is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Operators are standing by that can speak to people in both English and Spanish. Call 727-464-4333 if you need assistance. The Emergency Operations Center also is operating from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. People who need help also can use the live chat available at www.pinellascounty.org. Chat operators also are available that speak English and Spanish.

Sandbag locations

Pinellas County has sandbags available in three unincorporated areas. Sandbags will be available from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. as long as supplies last. Sandbags are limited to 20 per person. Materials will be supplied, and shovels will be available. Staff will be available to assist residents that need help.

Sandbags are available at John Chesnut Sr. Park, 2200 East Lake Road in Palm Harbor, Walsingham Park, 12615 102nd Ave. N. in Largo and Lealman Exchange, 5175 45th St. N. in St. Petersburg.

The city of Pinellas Park has opened multiple self-service sandbag sites for residents only. Residents can get up to 10 sandbags each. Residents must show a water bill and/or valid driver's license indicating they are a resident of Pinellas Park in order to receive their sandbags.

Sandbags are available at Helen Hogarth Park, 6401 94th Ave N.; Pine brook Park, 7202 118th Ave N.,; and Broderick Park, 6101 66th Ave N., on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call 727-369-5617.

The city of Madeira Beach has activated a self-serve sandbag station at Archibald Memorial Beach Park, 15100 Gulf Blvd. The self-serve sandbag station is available 24 hours day. Madeira Beach Public Works staff will be available to assist those unable to fill or lift sandbags into their vehicle from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. For more information, call Curt Presser, public information officer at 727-391-9951, ext. 299 or email cpreisser@madeirabeachfl.gov.

The Sandbag Station in the east parking lot of Oldsmar City Hall, 100 State Street West will be open Saturday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Limit is 15 bags per address. Photo ID or Oldsmar utility bill required. You will need to fill your own bags and transport to your vehicle. Bring assistance if needed. For more information, call 813-749-1136.

The city of Dunedin will have a sandbag distribution center for residents and business owners behind Fire Station 61 at 903 Michigan Blvd. It will be open Saturday and Sunday 7a.m.-7 p.m., weather permitting. Limit is15 bags per vehicle. Proof of residency or business address required.

Latest information

As of 11 a.m. Aug. 31, Dorian was located about 415 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida and 260 miles east northeast of the northwestern Bahamas. Maximum sustained winds were 150 mph. Dorian was moving west at 8 mph.

NHC says Dorian is slowly moving to the west and that motion is expected to continue through early next week.

The core of Dorian is expected to move over the Atlantic north of the southeastern and central Bahamas today and be near or over northwestern Bahamas on Sunday. Dorian is expected to move near the Florida east coast by late Monday through Tuesday.

A hurricane warning is in effect for northwestern Bahamas, excluding Andros Island, which is under a hurricane Andros Island.

Dorian is currently a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The intensity forecast call for maximum winds of 155 mph within 12 hours. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, a Category 4 hurricane has winds of 130-156 mph. The intensity forecast then calls for some decreasing strength within 36 hours.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 115 miles.

Preparedness information

Pinellas County officials are encouraging residents to finalize hurricane preparations not just for Dorian but because September is historically the most active month of the hurricane season.

Residents and businesses are urged to make sure they are following the three critical steps: Know your Risk, Make a Plan and Stay Informed. Registering for Alert Pinellas and downloading the Ready Pinellas app for iPhone and Android will help with the process.

Sunday, Sept. 1 marks the first day of National Preparedness Month, sponsored by FEMA to promote family and community disaster planning.

“It is important for everyone to be prepared in case our area is impacted by a hurricane this season,” Perkins said. “This is the perfect time to look up your evacuation zone, get whatever supplies are needed to complete emergency Go Kits and Stay Kits and sign up for Alert Pinellas.”

The county’s free mobile application, Ready Pinellas, will help you create a personalized supply list to help you keep track of the supplies you need to finish a kit. You should gather enough supplies to last seven days.

Some essential items include:

• Water – at least 1 gallon of water per person per day

• Non-perishable food

• Non-electric can opener

• Medications and copies of prescriptions (you can get a 30-day refill once an Emergency Declaration is declared for Pinellas County.)

• Flashlight or lantern

• Battery-operated or hand-cranked radio

• Cell phone with charger, extra battery and solar charger

• Contacts in mobile device and in print for backup

• Extra batteries

• Cash

• Insect repellant

• Sunscreen

• Tarps

• First aid supplies

• Portable toilet

• Books, cards, board games

• Full tank of gas in vehicle

• Gas tank; extra gas if you have a generator

• Emergency Access Permit (for beach residents and businesses. Obtain one at city halls or online at pcsoweb.com/emergency-access-permit.)

For more information on disaster preparedness, visit the Pinellas County Emergency Management website at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency, or email to ema@pinellascounty.org. The county sends urgent safety notification through Alert Pinellas. Residents can sign up at www.pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas.

Register for special needs shelters by calling the Citizens Information Center at 727-464-4333 or by contacting local fire department. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/specialneeds.htm for more information.

Mobile and manufactured homes residents must prepare to always evacuate when an evacuation is ordered. Mobile homes, manufactured homes and recreational vehicles are not strong enough to withstand the strong winds of a hurricane.

Sign up for pet shelters now by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/petpreparedness.

In addition, residents should clear their yards and patios of debris or loose items that could become projectiles in high winds. Such items should be secured or placed in a protected building or structure.

Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County urges residents to refill their prescription medications. It is not known how the hurricane will affect the region, but it’s important to make sure required prescription medication is available.

Prepare now is the message of the day.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.